British pop star Jessie Ware‘s debut album Devotion is getting a proper North American release this week, a mere eight months after it came out in the United Kingdom. Of course, once an album is released in North America the next stop en route to global pop superstardom is an interview with !! omg blog !!
A few weeks ago we reached Jessie via telephone in her Amsterdam hotel room to discuss her transitions from back-up singer to dance vocalist, from dance vocalist to solo recording artist, and from recording artist to live performer. Through it all, she has written several stellar pop songs, collaborated with rapper A$AP Rocky and come up with a signature dance routine (that may or may not have a name) while never losing sight of her Jewish Princess-ness. Read the full Q&A with Jessie Ware after the jump!
Hello Jessie. Whereabouts are you today?
I’m in Amsterdam. In my hotel room.
Nice. How is the tour going?
It’s good. I’m a bit knackered, actually. I’ve got a day off tomorrow but it’s a new thing being on a tour bus. For a Jewish Princess it doesn’t really work out so well. No.
It’s like camping! You have to remember where everything is and I lose everything. So it’s like, ‘Well? Where is your charger?’ Oh, it’s in one of those many bags that are in a cubby hole somewhere. Yeah, the Jewish Princess really comes out aggressively.
Maybe you’ll be able to upsize to the Jewish Princess Tour for the next one.
Erm, yeah. I’ll need to sell some records first. Wishful thinking.
The bio on your website introduces you as a ‘proper pop star.’ What is a proper pop star?
Well, I didn’t write that and that’s very sweet of someone to say but I don’t know what a proper pop star is. Hmmm… What makes a good pop star? What I like is a good voice. My favorite ones are Whitney Houston, Sade and Annie Lennox. Those are my kind of pop stars.
The classic divas.
Yeah, I reckon.
You made the jump from background singing to lead vocalist. What was that transition like?
It was a bit scary and daunting at the beginning. I had really good support around me. It was an amazing opportunity to do my own solo stuff so I just had to man up and start trying to enjoy it. I’m such an anxious, nervous person so I was worrying about worrying and I just had to slap myself on the face and be like, ‘Come on! This is amazing, stop worrying and just try and have fun.’ It really helped working with the right people that brought the best out of me and made me feel comfortable.
It’s interesting because you hadn’t been doing it for very long. Background singers will try for years to make the jump and they say it takes a lot of narcissism, ego and dedication to make that move. What do you think separates the back-ups from the leads?
On the whole I feel pretty lucky with how I went from being back up to lead. I think that’s probably what my anxiety was about. I felt guilty that I hadn’t struggled enough. Do you know what I mean? You hear about those back-up singers that are trying and trying and really I got an amazing opportunity with the faith from my friend going, ‘Why don’t I put you in the studio? You need to meet this guy SBTRKT’ and ‘Why don’t you come on your own?’ And I was like oh my god I feel like I’m incredibly lucky. That’s probably why I felt a bit a catty about it and uncomfortable.
So it takes a bit of luck then.
Absolutely – but that can only take you so far. It absolutely was a lot of luck and having friends that had the faith in me. I was a backing singer for about a year and a half and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. Being a lead singer now, it’s my show and they’re my songs and it feels really good. I’m growing in confidence of how I want the show to be and everything about it.
Jessie Ware performs “Nervous” with SBTRKT on Boiler Room TV.
How do you want your show to be?
I want people to have a good time. I want people to kiss and dance. I want to see smiles. I want to make an effort. I want my band to make an effort. I want people that have paid money to come and see me feel like they’ve come to see someone that made an effort for them and appreciate that. My band are amazing. The album has got a different personality on record than it does live, which I think is quite important too, for me anyway – to show all my sides.
What’s the live personality like?
It’s a bit more belt-y. If I’d gone with all the subtleties in the record it wouldn’t come across as well live because that’s supposed to be a really intimate setting; that’s supposed to be me telling things to you that maybe only you can hear in your headphones. It’s supposed to be very soft and reserved. With the live show I got back to being a bit of backing singer and I belt it out a bit more. It needs to have a bit more chutzpah on stage because you can’t create the experience of somebody listening in a car in a big auditorium.
For the North American re-release you have a new track called “Imagine It Was Us.” Can you tell me a bit about that song? When you started making the album, you made a conscious decision to step away from the dance world and now this song returns you very firmly back on the dance floor.
I came from the dance world and I loved it. I’ve had my album out and I’ve listened to those songs and I love them very, very much but yes there were less upbeat ones on the record. I thought, you know what? I wanted to make quite a fun, summer-y, slightly Madonna/Janet Jackson-esque disco-y song and just have fun with it. The person I started writing with was Julio Bashmore who is a house producer and although we haven’t done house-y tunes on my record, this is a bit more house-y and it was a bit more on Julio’s turf than on my turf. We did “Running” and “Sweet Talk” together and then “If You’re Never Gonna Move.” I wanted something that was going to be quite fun to play at festivals and was a bit lively and also just give a nod that I’m not abandoning the dance floor totally. I always want to do collaborations with dance producers and I always want to feature on things because I love dance music and I love that they support me.
So you wrote with a live audience in mind versus the other stuff.
Definitely. I’m going to festivals and I thought this will be quite fun. I’ve got a dance routine – you can’t really see it in the video totally but I’m going to put out a video of how to do the dance routine.
Do you have a name for the dance?
Oh shit! I should do that, shouldn’t I? I don’t know? The Imagination Dance! [laughs] I don’t know! Don’t quote me on that!
The music video for “Imagine It Was Us”
What was it like writing lyrics for the first time?
OH! OH MY GOD I cringed all the time! I hated it! I’d think: this is awful, oh god this isn’t articulate. Luckily, [my producer] David Okumu was like, ‘Whatever you say, as long as you believe it, f*cking wicked.’
How important are good lyrics to the success of a pop song?
For me, melody and lyrics are both just as important as each other. I love simple lyrics. I think they’re wicked when you can sing along to them after one listen. But lyrics have got to mean something to me and they’ve got to be not completely idiotic. I love pop music for the simplicity, really. There are two different schools: I listen to Rufus Wainwright to be enamored by his lyrics – and also his voice and everything – but I won’t pay as much attention to an old Madonna song in which the lyrics are simpler but just as effective. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Do you –
I’m not really answering any of your questions. I’m really sorry.
I’m just a very indecisive person. I’m also quite greedy so I like a bit of everything.
What lyrics are you really proud of?
I think “Wildest Moments.” I was pretty proud of that because I just felt there was such honesty in the way I told my best mate that I love her but she’s a nightmare. And, you know, I can see the effect of that when I see people singing it to me in the crowd. It’s satisfying and really wonderful. Something like “Sweet Talk” or “Running” I love too because they’re straight-forward and flirtatious and feminine.
Why do you think we need those kind of love-hate relationships you talk about in “Wildest Moments”?
I don’t know if we need them but they’re always there, aren’t they? So we can tap into every emotion that you can possibly have? It’s like ying and yang, isn’t it? You need a bit of both to balance it out. I know that when I’m being really fiery, my boyfriend is the most amazing person to have around because he’s the least fiery person. So he just calms me. You balance each other out and it makes you appreciate both sides.
What does A$AP Rocky add to the song?
A$AP Rocky gives me the biggest amount of street cred and makes me feel sooooo cool. Like, the amount of MTV Base that I used to watch when I was younger and longed to be Ashanti on a Ja Rule song or Aaliyah on a Timbaland beat. To have a rapper – a f*cking talented, gorgeous rapper who is wicked and amazing and on my record – I’m grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
How did that collaboration happen? Was your label like, ‘Here’s a hot rapper you need to get on your new track’?
No, he talked about me in an interview – I think when he was in the UK – and I just pounced! I was like, HEEEEYYY! He said wants to work with me and I was like, ‘F*ck he knows who I am! Shit!’ And so we got in touch and I asked him to do this and didn’t think it was gonna happen. And then: Inbox. A$AP verse. I was like, Oh. My. God. It’s too good to be true! It’s amazing! We’re yet to meet but we have emailed and he is a really charming guy. A lot of my friends know him and he just seems like such a nice guy.
The A$AP Rocky remix of Jessie Ware’s “Wildest Moments”
Publicist: Sorry to interrupt. Can we make this the last question for Jessie please?
Hmmm… let’s see… Well, I really like the song “Taking In Water” so why don’t we make it about that one. What’s the story behind that song?
Ohhhh [adopts somewhat hushed tone] that’s about my little brother. He wasn’t having a very good time and I wasn’t being a very good sister, really.
I was being quite hard on him. We weren’t speaking and I went into the studio and it was just on my mind and [my producer] Kid Harpoon was like, ‘Come on! Let’s just write a song about it.’ I was just like I don’t know how to help him; I just want to try. And so this is more of a therapeutic way of dealing with it and trying to tell him that I loved him and cared about him.
Did it work?
I don’t know? I know that I make a big fuss of him whenever he’s in the audience and I make sure everyone knows who he is. But yeah, I don’t know. I think we were having a fight and I was like, ‘I wrote a song about you’ and he was like, ‘Oh f*ck off!’ but actually I think he really loves it. And we are really close now, actually. We are much closer. I love singing that one live. I think it kind of goes up a level.
Jessie Ware performs “Taking In Water” on BBC Radio One’s Live Lounge.
Jessie Ware’s album Devotion comes out in North America via Cherrytree/Interscope on Tuesday (April 16).